Bristlenose Pleco – A Complete Care Guide

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Bristlenose Pleco, also known as Bushy nose Pleco, or Bushy Nose Catfish is a freshwater algae eater species of the Pleco family that was first seen in the Amazon Basin, South America.

Whether you’re an intermediate-level fish-keeper or a total beginner, Bristlenose Catfish is easy to take care of and an excellent addition to your aquarium. They are calm, quirky, active, fun-loving, and one of the most famous catfish around.

If you’re planning on adding them to your aquarium, I’ll walk you through everything you need to know about them in this article.

An Overview of Bristlenose Pleco

Scientific NameAncistrus Cirrhosus
Common NamesBushynose, Bushynose Catfish, Bristlenose pleco, Bristlenose Catfish
FamilyLoricariidae
OriginAmazon River Basin, Rapid-flowing Tributaries, South America
DietHerbivore
Care RequirementsEasy
ActivityVery Active
Lifespan5 – 12 years
TemperamentPeaceful
Tank LevelBottom Dweller
Minimum Tank Size20 30 gallons
Water Temperature Range73°F to 80°F
Water Hardness2 to 20  KH
pH Range5.7 to 7.5
Filtration/Water FlowModerate to strong
Water TypeFreshwater
BreedingEgg Layer
Difficulty to BreedDifficult
CompatibilityCommunity tanks
OK, for Planted Tanks?Yes

What Are Bristlenose Plecos?

Bristlenose Plecos is part of the Loricariidae family of order Siluriformes. They were discovered in 1836 in the vast river basins and tributaries of the Amazon River in South America. But they are also found in Panama and throughout other South American regions.

Ever since their classification in 1836, Bristlenose Plecos have become hugely popular throughout the world. And by the early 20th century, they were introduced to aquarium life. They are bottom dwellers and have rounded and down-turned mouths that help them keep themselves adhered to hard surfaces in the rapid current.

Origin and Habitat

They are the natural inhabitants of the extensive river basins and floodplains of Amazon, South America, where the water is a bit acidic and soft. Bristlenose Plecos can live through moderate water temperatures, ranging from 73°F to 80°F, which is temperate and cozy.

They are cold-resistant, but leaving them in water that’s below 60°F will put them through different diseases.

Appearance

Bristlenose Plecos are tropical and hardy fish with small bodies which are covered with white or yellow spots. Unlike a traditional Pleco which grows up to 20 inches, they can grow a maximal size of 5 inches. Their size helps them stand out from the other catfish and makes them one of the smallest catfish around the world.

Bristle Nose Pleco

They are generally in black, mottled brown, gray, olive, and albino shades. However, some of them have strong color variations, ranging from orange, red, and lemon to albino gold.

Compared to a normal Pleco, they have wider and somewhat shorter heads. They have fleshy tentacles that project from their heads and their bodies are covered with bony plates which function as a shield against predators in the wild. A newborn Bushynose Pleco takes 2 months to become hardy and almost 6 months to develop tentacles.

Bristles are present in almost all Bristlenose Plecos, but they are more apparent in male Bristlenose Plecos. They almost look like aliens with their bristles. The males have longer bristles and their tentacles protrude from their heads. While in the female Plecos, the tentacles stick out from their snouts and are low.

Aside from this, the males have eversible odontodes (dermal teeth) and whiskers and spikes on the fins, whereas the females have underdeveloped or absent odontodes.

Bristlenose Plecos have their mouths at the bottom of their bodies and have elongated lips. The location of their mouths helps them stick to solid surfaces if the water current is too swift.  

Having a pair of pectoral fins, a pair of abdominal fins, and a larger dorsal fin add to their beauty and uniqueness. In a common Bushynose Pleco, fins and tails are shorter and fan-like. However, the Long-finned Pleco has longer fins.

Some Bristlenose Plecos have darker backs and lighter abdomens and they can easily blend in the environment by changing their colors. When stressed or ill, they change their color to a duller shade.

Types of Bristlenose Plecos

There are five types of Bristlenose Plecos fish, and each of them has got defining features.

Albino Bristlenose Pleco

Their capability to recognize food in a low visual range and their pliability in accepting the diversity of aquariums make this variation interesting. Albino Bristlenose Pleco is named after its color, which is albino.

The light yellow color of its body makes it distinguishable among other Bristlenose Plecos. Other than that, they can easily fold themselves on the shore and rock, taking advantage of their body coloring.

Super Red Bristlenose Pleco

The reason this variation of Bristlenose Plecos has this name is the coloring of its body. It is similar to how Albino Bristlenose Pleco got its name. Super Red Bristlenose Pleco looks navel-orange or rose-colored and sometimes glowing red. So, no matter with which fish you put it in your aquarium, it will still stand out from the rest.

Long-fin Bristlenose Pleco

This variation is quite popular because of its beautiful long fins, and that’s why we call it long-fin Bristlenose Pleco. While moving, Long-fin Bristlenose Pleco is delightful to watch. It moves its long and flowing fins in a swaying motion when swimming around, which almost gives a hypnotic trance.

Starlight Bristlenose Pleco

With their small black body full of white spots scattered across it, this type of Bristlenose Plecos can easily augment the beauty of your aquarium. Starlight Bristlenose Plecos have a prominent white seam on their dorsal fin and tail, which makes them even more beautiful.

Calico Bristlenose Pleco

Calico Bristlenose Pleco and Super Red Bristlenose Pleco almost look alike. This type of freshwater species has burnt-orange and marble patterned bodies, making them lavish and undeniably an excellent addition to your tank.

Lifespan

The life expectancy of a captivated Bristlenose Pleco is around 5 to 12 years if they are properly looked after. As they flourish in water tempered below 80°F and above 70°F, they can easily live up to 12 years. In some cases, they lived as long as 15 years.

Average Size

The average size of a Bristlenose Pleco is 5 inches. A common Pleco can usually grow 3 to 5 inches in the first year of its birth. The process of the growth then slows up, and it takes them almost 5 years to reach the maximum length, which is 25 inches.

Bristlenose Catfish Care

One of the key reasons why they are beginner-friendly is hidden in the fact that their maintenance is trouble-free, and Bristlenose Pleco Care allows you to understand how freshwater catfish are looked after. If the temperature of the aquarium is moderate and their basic needs are met, you don’t have to fuss over your Bristlenose Pleco’s care.

Another plus point is their resilience against uncommon health issues. It is true that like any other living being, they too encounter some health problems, but they tend not to have any major issues.

Still, there are some really important things you need to consider before having a Bristlenose Pleco.

Aquarium Setup

Amazon River Basins is the first home to Bristlenose Plecos, and the water temperature of this region is moderate and fresh. To keep their health intact, try giving them an environment where there’s plenty of oxygen, fresh water, and live aquarium plants.

They can camouflage in an unfamiliar environment. But, you can still set up an aquarium with replicated conditions they encounter in the wild. Bristlenose Plecos live at the bottom of the rivers, so keep that in mind while constructing their habitat.

Don’t put anything in your aquarium that prevents them from swinging around. Also, they are bottom-feeding fish, so whenever you feed your Pleco, the food should sink into the tank.

Tank Size

You should have an aquarium size with a minimum of 30 gallons for them. The number can go up if there’s going to be other tank makes in your aquarium.

This freshwater catfish prefers leading a solitary life, but it can tolerate other Plecos if the tank has plenty of space. After all, the bigger the tank, the more freedom they have to roam around.

Water Parameters

The Brislenose Pleco have an innate familiarity with fast-flowing, soft, moderate temperature, and freshwater. Despite their ability to survive in slightly different water temperatures, you should still consider setting the right parameters.

An adult Bristlenose Pleco can easily deal with fluctuated water conditions as compared to a newborn that will get unwell if the water parameters are off-balance.

The recommended water temperature for a Bristlenose Pleco ranges from 73° F to 80° F. And, the acidity should be around 5.7 to 7.5 pH. Also, make sure the water hardness is above 2 KH and below 20 KH. If the water parameters are against what they are intimate with, this freshwater species (adult or younger) can become sedentary and stressed.

Pro Tip: Bristlenose Plecos are good at indicating dissolved levels of oxygen. They are facultative air breathers, which means they can absorb atmospheric oxygen in times of need. Otherwise, they use their gills for this purpose.

You may notice your Pleco coming to the surface for a quick splashing gulp and then returning to the bottom. If you see this happening several times per hour, it may be because the oxygen levels have dropped.

Filtration and Aeration

Another core reason Bristlenose Pleocs are my favorite is their algae-eating abilities. They are nocturnal, but they still produce a lot of waste. The best way to keep the mess down is using a strong filtration system.

They consume a lot of food, which naturally results in producing heaps of waste. I recommend using a canister filter or a hang-on back filter for keeping the tank clean, given they are 300 gph at least.

You can also install an air pump powered bubbler in your aquarium to boost oxygenation, but it’s not necessary. I would highly recommend you have an under-gravel water system as it does wonders to this freshwater species and keeps the water oxygenated.

Lighting

You don’t need to install artificial lighting in your aquarium as they are more active during the night and prefer staying at the bottom of the tank throughout the day.

But, if you still want to make the tank lighted, you can go for LED lights as they are cost-efficient and easy to use. These Led lights can be programmed and you can set timers and make sure that they go off during the night for them to breed. This artificial lighting will also assist you with monitoring how your freshwater fish is doing.

Aquatic Plants and Decoration   

Bristlenose Plecos come from rivers of the Amazon where the water is fresh, and the current is moderate to fast. They enjoy dwellings at the bottom, so you should build their natural habitat by paying close attention to these details.

Also, they love hiding places and scavenging for food among plants and decorations that you put in the tank, so keep that in mind while making their habitat.

Apart from giving these freshwater fish caves to hide, you should also decorate your aquarium with live plants, rocks, and driftwood. Some great suggestions for plants can be Amazon Sword, Wisteria, and Java Fern. You can also consider having Java Moss and Anubias in your community tank. (Make sure there’s enough natural lighting for the plants to stay healthy).

Bristlnose Plecos are nocturnal who roam around at night and take rest during the day, using these manufactured hiding spots. These hiding places also play an important part during the breeding season, which we will discuss later on.

Pro Tip: Make sure whatever décor you use for Bristlenose Plecos aquariums is strongly secured. You would certainly not like to cause any hindrance to their day-to-day activity by using decorative items which are not firmly fixed.

Tank Maintenance:

A neat, well-decorated, and large tank can be a suitable replacement for your Pleco’s natural dwelling. No matter how hardy this freshwater species is, try imitating their natural environment as strictly and hard as possible. So, they don’t miss their natural dwelling.

Although they are well-liked for their tank cleaning capacity, you still need a powerful filter to do away with debris and other impurities. Chemicals like nitrates can build up in your aquarium over time and can make the water cloudy.

But, whenever you clean your fish tank, do not empty it out of all the water because this will probably remove the necessary bacteria, helpful in keeping the nitrogen cycle set.

This freshwater fish consumes a good-round diet and as a result, there’s a lot of debris to clean. A canister filter or a hang-on-back filter with at least 300 gph can easily filter any impurity out of it.

How to clean the tank of Bristlenose Plecos?

You can easily clean your Pleco’s tank following these tips.

1. Clean the sides first by unplugging the filter and heater (if there is any heater).
2. After the sides are cleaned, begin cleaning the gravel using a siphon so all the dirt is
cleaned out.
3. Use the siphon to throw away the dirty water.

Pro Tips:

1. Use a plastic scraper to clean the walls of your fish tank if they are made of acrylic.
2. Keep at least 50% water in the tank so the beneficial bacteria doesn’t get wiped out.
3. Make sure there’s no chlorine in the freshwater. You can do this through a conditioning treatment.

Substrate

Bristlenose Plecos spend most of their time at the bottom. So, it’s highly recommended to pay close attention to the substrate.

Bristlenose Plecos love exploring substrate. Therefore, an ideal substrate would be at least 3 inches deep. The deepness of the substrate would also give place to deep-rooted plants. For this, you can use a clay-based substrate that is better with gravel and dirt. You can also go for soft sand because your pleco will flow through the substrate to find food.

Community Tank Mates

Bristlenose Plecos are not aggressive, they are actually peaceful community tank inhabitants. Putting them with other species isn’t a problem, they can easily get along with a tank mate.

Even if your Pleco is the only one in the aquarium, there’s nothing to worry about. They can lead a solitary life, without depending on others to give them company.

Here’s a list of several great tank mates for your Bristenose Plecos.

Poor Tank Mates

You should not put your Pleco with any large or aggressive fish.

Here are some incompatible tank mates for Bristlenose Plecos:

1. Pufferfish
2. Aggressive or large cichlid
3. Tiger Barbs
4. Larger or aggressive plecos

Make sure there’s enough room for multiple Plecos to live together and ample caves for them to hide in. This way, they wouldn’t act territorial or extraterritorial towards each other. And even if they do, you don’t need to fuss over it because they don’t have sharp teeth.

Breeding Bristlenose Plecos

If you’re just starting out as an aquarist, then this is the ideal species you can begin with.

For breeding Bristlenose Plecos, you only need to have a basic understanding of their natural breeding pattern and what food you should add to their diet more often.

A Bristlenose Pleco hits sexual maturity around 6 months, and to boost their chances of breeding, lower the temperature (not too much). Also, this should not disturb pH levels as any sudden and drastic change can be lethal for your pleco.

I recommend adding fresh water to the tank and replacing the old water up to 50% and keeping the parameters modified. The sudden inflow of water will give your male and female Bristlenose Plecos an impression of the rainy season floods they are naturally familiar with.

During the breeding season, the male plecos become highly territorial and do their best to win over the females. They will flare their bristles and perform a stunning dance around a female pleco they want to mate with. Then, it’s time for the female Bristlenose Pleco fish to become receptive to their attention, which leads them to mate.

Once the plecos have linked up, the male pleco will construct a nest where the female pleco can lay her eggs. The spawning usually occurs after 4-5 days, and the female pleco can lay 20 eggs to 200 eggs. While the other fish species will eat the fry, bristlenose plecos are very protective of their eggs.

One of the best parts about breeding them is that you don’t have to buy a separate breeding tank for breeding this aquarium fish.

Pro Tip: To know how many eggs are infected, you can check out their color. The infected eggs turn downy and non-transparent, while the sterilized eggs are glassy orange or yellow. Male plecos are great at looking after the eggs. They would even start overlooking their diet for almost 10 days until the eggs hatch. Once the baby plecos are strong enough to survive on their own, the male pleco would leave them.
Another Tip: Add protein to their diet because it is another important factor in their breeding.

Here is a video by Blake’s Aquatics with further insights on the subject.

Bristlenose Pleco Food and Diet

A good-round vegetarian diet along with protein can improve your pleco’s health and longevity. They love algae, so you can give them algae wafers. While in their native home, they get a variety of food, and mainly are algae eaters. You can still give them different blanched vegetables like peas, zucchini, cucumbers, carrots, and spinach. Even though 95% of their diet comprises vegetables, feeding them protein-based food like bloodworms is also important.

These suckermouth catfish are bottom-dwellers, so you should look for sinking fish food pellets and spirulina wafers especially made for bottom-feeding fish. In their natural habitat, they mostly survive on plant-based stuff and therefore might stick themselves to plants to eat algae and hunt for tiny insect larvae.

Great For Bottom Feeders!
Hikari Algae Wafers

Algae wafers are a great way to directly feed your bottom feeding fish. They are especially effective for larger fish like plecos

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Feeding bristlenose plecos a good diet is important, and so is keeping track. Feed them only once or twice a day. Give them a mixed diet of vegetables, algae wafers, brine shrimp, or shrimp eggs. The small bodies of plecos are full of dull tones but with beautiful color patterns. If you notice a duller shade, it’s a sign that your pleco is not getting a healthy diet.

Common Health Problems

Unlike other fish, they don’t fall prey to any major health issues. However, a poor diet, dirty tank, and stress might make your bristlenose plecos susceptible.

Here are some common health problems your pleco might come across.

Ich

This disease is mainly caused by poor water tank conditions.
The symptoms are:

1. Small white spots on the fins
2. Small white spots on the body

Changing tank water and heating it up may help.

Dropsy and Fin Rot

Dropsy and Fin Rot are bacterial diseases that happen due to malnutrition and unhygienic water conditions. The symptoms are:

  1. Bloating and loss of coloration
  2. loss of appetite
  3. discoloration and melting of fins

The possible treatment is focusing on their diet and using clean water.

FAQs

How many Bristlenose Plecos should be kept together?

The ideal number is 1 to 5. Bristlenose pleco size is 5 inches, so have a large tank to keep them together.

Are Bristlenose Plecos friendly?

Bristlenose plecos are hardly aggressive. They are friendly, active, and super calm. Beginners can easily handle them if there are other fish in the aquarium, given that you don’t have aggressive species in the tank.

How long does it take for a Bristlenose Pleco to reach full size?

To reach its full size, which is 5 inches, it takes a bristlenose pleco around 2 years.

Are Bristlenose Plecos OK alone?

A bristlenose pleco has the capacity of living happily alone, which is a good thing. Especially, if you’re new to fish keeping, starting from a single bristlenose pleco would be a good start.

How long do Bristlenose Plecos live in captivity?

The average lifespan of a bristlenose pleco is 5 years. If you provide them with a good diet and a healthy environment, they can live up to 12 years in captivity.

Do Bristlenose Plecos Clean your tank?

Yeah, they do. They are actually famous for their tank cleaning abilities.

Closing Thoughts

If you’re looking for a great pleco to add to your tank, the bristlenose is a great option. They are peaceful fish that will not bother most other fish and they eat algae so you don’t have to worry about them competing with other inhabitants of your tank for food. Have you kept bristlenoses before? Let us know your experience in the comments!

by Mark

Mark is the founder of Aquarium Store Depot. He started in the aquarium hobby at the age of 11 and along the way worked at local fish stores. He has kept freshwater tanks, ponds, and reef tanks for over 25 years. His site was created to share his knowledge and unique teaching style on a larger scale. He has worked on making aquarium and pond keeping approachable. Mark has been featured in two books about aquarium keeping - both best sellers on Amazon. Each year, he continues to help his readers and clients with knowledge, professional builds, and troubleshooting.

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